Roofers see business go through the ceiling

Blue is suddenly de rigueur on Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky rooftops. And the hottest phone number in town is the cell number of a good roofer.

Drive down almost any residential street and those blue tarps protecting damaged roofs seem to be almost everywhere. The near hurricane-force winds of Sept. 14 caused unprecedented roof damage to homes and businesses, triggering an equally staggering demand for roofers and roofing materials.

“It’s ovelwhelming,” said Dave Molloy, 47, fourth-generation owner of Molloy Roofing Co. in Blue Ash. Molloy has been so swamped with calls – 140 in the first hour the Monday after the windstorm – that he’s limiting work to previous customers.

Likewise, Tony Singler, 64, owner of TS Roofing & Sheet Metal Inc. in Cheviot has heen in the roofing business for more than half a century and he’s never seen anything like it. “It’s a jungle out there,” he said.

Molloy said the standard wind warranty on flat asphalt shingles is for winds up to about 55 miles per hour, although heavier dimensional shingles are designed to withstand stronger winds. At their peak, gusts from the remnants of Hurricnne Ike topped out at 84 mph in Cincinnati, Category 1 force, according to the National Weather Service.

It’s not just the number of calls for roof repairs but how widespread they are, say experts. The winds knocked out electricity to more than 2 million people from Louisville to Cleveland.

Don McNeil, president of Apex Restoration, a Madisonville firm that specializes in damage repair and restoration for insurance companies, said, “I’ve been in this business for 15 years and never seen as much damage this widespread. We’re calling it a dry hurricane.”

“We’ve gotten calls from as far away as Akron and Lexington,” said Singler, who is the past president of the Tri-State Roofers Association, a group of about 45 local roofing contractors and suppliers trying to enforce standards.

Steve Wells, who owns Overhead Roofing Inc., said he’s hired temporary help jus to keep up with the calls for estimates and repairs. “Our voice mail system can handle about 60 calls, and every morning it’s full,” he said.

This time of year, Overhead probably would normally get 20 calls on a busy day. But since the storm, Wells said, “We’re talking to 150 to 200 people a day, and that doesn’t include the people going to voice mail or who just hang up because they can’t get through.”

It’s not just roofs

While roof damage is the most widespread, repair specialists are seeing other types of damage as well. Apex, which also has offices in Columbus, Springfield and Dayton, normally gets about 40 to 50 calls a week. Since the storm, McNeil said, the firm has gotten more than 600. “We’re also seeing trees into houses, fences blown down, pool liners ripped, screened porches and pergolas blown away, an assortment of wind damage,” he said. “We had one house with four trees on it, the smallest of which was 80 feet.”

Apex, which frequently acts as the “eyes and ears” for insurance companies, tends to get the most severe damage cases, said McNeil. He estimated the avernge claim his company is seeing ranges from $8,500 to $9,000.

“The blessing here is that it hasn’t rained,” said Molloy, giving roofers the chance to cover roofs with tarps or roofing paper to protect the damaged areas from water until they can come back and make permanent repairs. In most cases, roofers say, they’re practicing repair triage, taking care of the most severe cases, where bare wood is exposed, first.

“If it’s just a few shingles missing, it shouldn’t be a problem in the short run,” said Molloy. “What we do when we get a call is go out and make the roof weather-tight,” said Singler. “We tell people if they find somebody to make the permanent repair before we can get back, go ahead. We just ask that they give us the tarp back.”

Price up along with demand

The price of asphalt shingles, made from the sludge left after oil is removed for refining, were skyrocketing even before the windstorn.

“We’ve seen unprecedented price increases,” said Wells. Price increases that used to come a couple times a year are now coming twice a month, reflecting the cost of not only of shingles, but transportation.

Demand for shingles is so great roofers say, that some colors and styles are in short supply. But Mueller Roofing, one of the area’s largest shingle disbibutors, said it has been able to keep up with demand.

“We have five locations, so we have a pretty good supply,” said Scott Fritsch, Mueller’s director of sales.

Door open to scammers

The record demand for roofing repairs is creating opportunity for scam artists, roofers warn.

“There’s alot of transients in this business,’ said Singler, who advises homeowners to check out any contractor with the Better Business Bureau.

Singler said he hasn’t raised his labor rate of $30 an hour, but has heard some are charging as much as $100 an hour. A lot of homeowners think the storm is a windfall for roofers, but Wells said that’s not the case.

“I hate to see this,” said Wells. Not only is he working much longer days, writing estimates until 11 p.m. at night, but ifs likely to mean a slowdown in the future.

Most asphalt roofs are replaced every 20 or 30 years, but the storm will trigger many replacements before that normal cycle.

“I was on a roof today making adamage estimate,” he said, The shingles “didn’t need replacing for six or seven years, but replacing the roof now will mean it is lost to the market six or seven years from now.

Contractor Hiring Tips

  • Call the Better Business Bureau, 513-421-3015 in Cincinnati or 859-282-8231 in Northern Kentucky, to check how long the company has been in business and how responsive it has been to complaints.
  • Ask to see the contractor’s workers’ compensation certificate to be sure it is insured against injury claims.
  • Do not pay for all the work in advance – a 30 percent downpayment is typical, says the bureau – and don’t pay cash. Pay by check or credit card.
  • Be wary of door-to-door solicitations and make sure you know the name, address and phone number of the contractor.
  • Heed this advice from one roofer: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”